It’s a yearly tradition at BaB, where we try and give a ‘how the season will play out’ story on the Eastern Conference. And for seemingly the 19th season in a row, the East is once again the crappier conference. That has long been ‘the path’ that John Paxson refers to in terms of contention...though now it’s more like contending for a playoff seed.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Yup, once again LeBron James has few obstacles to the NBA finals. They do lack a bit of depth, but also have flexibility to make some deals midseason if necessary. And you’d have to think they’ll be more relaxed and confident having won the title with their hand-picked coach.
2. Boston Celtics
A team where you aren’t sure how they had such a good defense without traditionally-apt defensive bigs...and then they add a very good one in Al Horford. Do have some pieces to make a major mid-season acquisition, though trader Danny lately has had more of the strategy of holding on to all those picks and then needing to cut them in training camp.
3. Toronto Raptors
I’m still upset they didn’t pursue a deal last year with the Bulls (for Gibson and/or Gasol) to try and pick off Cleveland when they were at their seemingly most vulnerable. Seems like a wasted opportunity, because in the offseason they had no financial room to do much but re-sign DeRozan, and let Bismack Biyombo leave. I think this is a candidate for regression and not just because the Bulls always can pound them when they meet.
4. Charlotte Hornets
This team is so solid and apparently forgettable that I didn’t have them in my rankings at first. Another regression candidate, but not too much, because their nucleus is still in its prime and they’re well-coached.
5. Orlando Magic
Listen, the East really is trash. It’s tough to differentiate these next, oh, 6-7 teams, and just because it’s a #5 seed doesn’t mean it’s as low as something like 44 wins.
So why not Orlando? They were a middle-pack defense last year and have upgraded coaching from a checked-out Skiles for Frank Vogel, plus acquired Serge Ibaka and Biyombo for the front line. They may not have enough scorers, but I could see this team performing ironically like the Skiles Bulls, that just wins on defense alone.
6. Detroit Pistons
This will be another team that stays in more games than they should due to their coaching and defense. But losing Reggie Jackson hurts, obviously. I’m still forever off the Andre Drummond stardom express. It’s not just the FT shooting, but...well it’s mostly that. I can’t see him ever reaching the level of even Dwight Howard, who had fine touch and playmaking ability when compared to Drummond.
7. Indiana Pacers
A weird offseason that seemingly had them simultaneously overrated yet underrated. Like, they signed a bunch of solid names, but then blogger types (the worst of all types!) crapped on a lot of those names...but they’re still pretty solid names!
8. Washington Wizards
Congrats to me for continuing my streak of thinking the Wizards will be good. I probably would’ve bumped them up to 4th seed if they didn’t already have a major injury to a key player (Ian Mahinmi). They’re also pretty shallow, and Scott Brooks has a bad history of over-playing crappy end of bench veterans and not staggering starters.
9. Atlanta Hawks
Also shallow as heck, but usually well coached to make up for it. I have little idea what to expect with Dwight Howard’s homecoming. Has he checked out of being a franchise player, and will that actually help his fit within the ‘Hawks University’ system? Or does he still think he’s MVP-caliber and wants to be a focal point...OR he actually becomes really great again?
10. Chicago Bulls
Again, could go as high as 4th in this dreck. I just can’t shake this fundamental problem: the defense is going to be really bad. Sure, swapping out the pick-and-roll coverage from hell (Rose and Gasol) for anything should be a bit better. But to address the point of attack they acquired Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, both of whom look like they simply won’t commit to any defense outside of an early swipe at a steal. Maybe it was just preseason effort, but Fred Hoiberg has never proven to be able to coach up a defense.
And so they’ll have to out-score teams, and we know with a lack of shooting the offense is, at best, going to be inconsistent. I do think they’ll out-perform their point differential by having Butler and Wade there to close out the tight games. But it’s tough to get a lead when you’re earning FTs and the other team is hitting three-pointers.
11. New York Knicks
I think Rose is done, but he’ll think he’s doing great. So that’ll be much more fun to watch from afar. I was gonna be on-board for a Knicks playoff berth behind a resurgent Joakim Noah, and the old Noah would’ve been huge for this team’s defense. But this preseason he’s only been injured, so all evidence points to him not being that guy anymore.
12. Miami Heat
This is where the Bulls should be, truly committing to ‘young and athletic’ (with a couple in-prime guys like the Bulls had in Butler and Niko) and likely missing the playoffs but leaving room for a surprisingly good season. So it’s certainly possible they’re better, but I’m picking the step-back season where Riley not-so-subtly tanks a bit.
13. Milwaukee Bucks
Just...no shooting. And they’re too young to make up for it, just don’t see them handling adversity well when finding themselves out-gunned. And kinda worried for their sake when Jason Kidd sees his team is bad.
14. Brooklyn Nets
15. Philadelphia 76ers
(eh, what can you say about those last few teams.
I asked the BaB writing staff - we have one of those now - for their Bulls prediction.)
I was admittedly pretty down on the offseason because I'm not totally sure what the actual plan is, but I'm still holding on to a shred of optimism that this team won't be a complete disaster. Although one could argue that them being a disaster would be better than sneaking into the playoffs and getting smashed in the first round. I certainly won't argue against this logic at all.
Given the raw talent that's in place and the mess that's the Eastern Conference after the first few teams, there's an outside chance that this mish-mosh of a roster comes together and makes a charge at a top four or five seed. I don't think this will actually happen, though, as I just don't see how the Bulls can cobble together a strong unit on either side of the ball. The lack of spacing will be an issue offensively, as will the lack of two-way players. Plus, plenty of questions remain about Fred.
But I still do believe the Bulls will make the postseason as the No. 8 seed. They'll then win Game 1 on the road in Cleveland before getting put in their place, and then who knows what the hell will happen next summer.
Predicted East standings: 1. Cleveland, 2. Boston, 3. Toronto, 4. Indiana, 5. Atlanta, 6. Detroit, 7. Charlotte, 8. Chicago , 9. New York, 10. Washington, 11. Miami, 12. Milwaukee, 13. Orlando, 14. Brooklyn, 15. Philadelphia
There's two ways this season will go, either it will be a weird, huge success that GarPax will gloat about or it will be an epic disaster. I do my best not to be pessimistic all the time about the Bulls, but at least from my perspective it's hard seeing how this team has any success this season. Even though it's "only preseason" we could already tell that the offense was going to have trouble scoring, with teams packing in the paint against Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler. Defensively, in the words of the late Dennis Green, "they are who we thought they were." The transition defense was especially putrid, and Wade and Rondo are already gambling too much not to mention taking plays off away from the ball. I've also put the over/under on when we'll starting hearing of a rift between Rondo and Fred Hoiberg at December. But as I said in the preseason roundtable discussion last month (link dump), I don't think the Bulls will make the playoffs, probably finishing anywhere from 9th-11th in the conference.
This season will be an extreme one for the Bulls in terms of expectations. It could go very well and they could be a dark horse in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The trio of Rondo, Wade, Butler play like All-Stars, bench guys step up and they play decent defensively and Chicago’s in the 5th seed come playoff time. But this season could go fully wrong where they play horrible defensively, offensive possessions are clogged and the Bulls are suddenly 4th in their own division come All-Star break and Holberg’s job is on the line. It’s playoffs or bust for the Bulls right now. Especially with the roster they created in the offseason. I think Chicago does well enough to make the playoffs. Like 7th or 8th seed. But they won’t be good enough to beat any of the top teams in the East.
George ‘Easy’ Eisner:
As a fan, you have to be willing to adjust your expectations for a given season. Dwyane Wade has already said upfront that forecasting this team to be a title contender is unrealistic. In that sense, I'm looking forward to what will surely be an entertaining season given the Bulls' high ceiling/low floor status. I truly believe this team could finish as high as fourth in the East, but that's a best case scenario in which Fred Hoiberg finds a way to successfully balance the three alphas, Nikola Mirotic hits his stride, Valentine and McDermott play well off the bench, and the team remains healthy as a whole. Asking for all of those things to happen on a nightly basis is certainly a lot, which is why in my view it's much more likely that this team falls somewhere in the 7th-9th range in terms of fighting for playoff spots. Of course, the potential for this team to bust is exponentially higher than for it to be successful, and if the myriad of health issues that have surrounded this team for years resurface again this season, this team is almost certainly going to miss the playoffs.
All you need to know about the Bulls this season is that they parted ways with Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Derrick Rose and somehow managed to make the roster less athletic. While the well-run teams in the NBA have spent the past several seasons collecting versatile wing players capable of guarding multiple positions, the Bulls are nearly devoid of two-way players. Jimmy Butler is the lone Bull preventing that "nearly" from flipping to "completely." Unfortunately, this summer's free agent acquisitions will completely nuder Butler's offensive impact (RIP #PointJimmy, we hardly knew ye').
I don't expect the Bulls to make the playoffs this year. I don't think the eight teams that finished ahead of Chicago a year ago have taken big enough steps backwards that the Bulls will surpass any of them in the standings. Last season's eighth seed, the Detroit Pistons, could take fairly big step forward; they've done well to stock their roster full of switchy athletes around the perimeter.
Watching for improvement among the young core will be more important to track than the win-loss record. Will Nikola Mirotic perform consistently? Can McDermott develop into a merely bad defender, instead of an atrocious one? Is Cristiano Felicio the real deal? These are the questions that will keep me up at night from now through the Spring.
With all this uncertainty in Chicago, there is one thing I am sure of: the great teams in the NBA is playing chess, and the Bulls are playing Connect Four.
(hey, he hasn’t written anything here yet...well he can contribute anyway -yfbb)
I feel safe in predicting that this season will be interesting to watch unfold no matter what. However, I'm finding it difficult to conjure up much confidence that this is a team capable of winning a playoff series, let alone making it there. I think the Bulls will ultimately finish just outside the playoff picture at the conclusion of a disappointing season. Much has been made of the awful offensive fit of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler. With Taj Gibson officially named the starting power forward, the Bulls figure to have exactly zero floor spacing. Even so, I think it's plausible that the combined basketball IQ of the Bulls Three Alphas and some helpful rotation staggering could help squeeze out an average offense. It's other end of the floor where the Bulls will get cooked. There isn't a clear rotation that will offer the Bulls any kind of defensive versatility--nor is Fred Hoiberg known for his acumen in that area. As such, I'm predicting a slow and frustrating season.